by Nick Welsh
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer denounced the collection of political information by the governor’s Office of Homeland Security (OHS) earlier this year about a protest co-hosted by the Santa Barbara chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) in the Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens. “There’s no legitimate intelligence purpose served by the collection of this type of information. Zero,” said Lockyer spokesperson Tom Dresslar. Dresslar added that based on reports of such intelligence-gathering that appeared in the Los Angeles Times last weekend, the OHS has drafted new guidelines “based on freedom of speech and the Bill of Rights.” The Times reported that a private contractor hired by the OHS had included information in its March 7 report stating the Santa Barbara demonstration was scheduled to take place the following month.
Ultimately that demonstration — on behalf of MacGregor Eddy (pictured), a Salinas nurse arrested for trespassing at a Vandenberg Air Force Base peace protest — never took place. OHS Deputy Director Chris Bertelli acknowledged that the information was included in a daily briefing prepared by SRA International, but said OHS officials objected to its inclusion at the time. SRA International is a private contractor hired by OHS and is paid $4 million by the state of California to assist in information-gathering and analysis. Bertelli added that the information was included in a draft report prepared by SRA — which was just beginning its contract at the time — as a dress rehearsal for what kind of information was to be included, and excluded. “We told them at the time this is not something we want, that it was not appropriate, and that it violated policy. It was a draft report and it never made it into a final report and it never made it to the director. And it’s never happened again.” Bertelli described the report on the WILPF protest as extremely brief and “bare bones.” To make matters worse, the SRA report also managed to get its facts wrong. According to Judith Evered of the Santa Barbara WILPF chapter, WILPF was one of 12 organizations to sponsor the courthouse demonstration, not the only one. “I think they gave us a little too much credit,” she said. As for Eddy, since sentenced for her trespassing, she said the state attention was “flattering, but creepy.” She noted that Santa Barbara’s WILPF chapter has six members with the average age of 80 — in fact it’s 12 members and they’re not quite that old — adding, “If we were not sliding toward a police state,” she said, “it would be funny.”